Amy is my 85-year-old stepmother, and since my father's death in 2001, she has slowly woken to the joy to be had by sitting in the cool--or for her more often the hot--of the summer on her very small suburban front porch. This is something she never allowed herself time for when my father was alive.
Amy is a wiry and diminutive Italian Roman Catholic. She is a great observer of people, a shrewd judge of character. She has no good words to say about President Bush. And she keeps her suburban 70s ranch house absolutely immaculate, putting in more work each day than I am capable of in a week.
And, these days, she loves her porch time.
I like it, too.
It is so pleasant to sit out there with a glass of water or iced tea on the circular table between us and just chat and enjoy the day. We can spy and comment on the comings and goings at the perennial garage sale held by her neighbor across the street. We enjoy the calls of house finches and chattering house sparrows issuing from inside the gargantuan blue spruce trees my father planted in the front yard. Robins pouring liquid notes toward evening.
So, there we were just after noon this past Friday. We were chatting away when suddenly I noticed, on the table between us, a spider. Not a black widow, certainly. Not one of those typical little brown spiders you see. No. In the words of Woody Allen, this was a "major spider"!
It was big, hairy, black. It had some white spots on the back of its body. It stood up high from the table, maybe as tall as the thickness of my little finger. Including legs and all it would have fit nicely on top of a quarter. It was horrible and fascinating and utterly beautiful.
I pointed it out to Amy and we both watched it walk under the fake flower in a basket on the glass-topped table. It disappeared into the plant.
I thought it odd that a big healthy spider would want to hang out in an artificial flower. Amy worried that it would "make a nest in there." This gave me the image of hundreds, thousands of tiny black hairy spiders flowing like liquid from all sides of the fake flower basket. But no, my mind said. It would never last in there. It would have an aesthetic aversion to the artificial flower. It would come back out.
We continued to enjoy the afternoon and to chat. From time to time the black spider would appear on one of the flower's silk leaves. I would point it out. It would flit back into the darkness between the leaves and disappear.
After some time, Amy decided she had had enough of this visitor to her porch. The spider, not me.
My attitude was that he was not doing anyone any harm.
Besides, I was fascinated with the creature. When he was on the table top, before starting his exploration of the fake flower in the basket, I got a good view of him. I could see these incredible green eyes made of a million facets. And I could see his jaws moving, crunch-crunching.
Ok, ok, I have to admit that this fascination was tinged with unreasoning fear. I wasn't going to let him crawl on my skin, for instance. I was going to keep quite aware of where he was. He was furry and complex and solid and magnificent in his spiderness. He knew what he wanted to be and to do. He was his own spider.
Amy was saying she wanted to kill him. Or "it." At the same time, she didn't really want to, or knew that she really shouldn't kill one of God's creatures. But she knew where to draw the line. She did not want this particular creature in her house. And that was that.
Amy stood up and lifted the basket a few times by its handle and let it drop. But if the spider were still in there, he was clinging tightly.
We forgot the spider for a bit in the pleasure of the afternoon's porch time.
Then it happened all at once.
The spider dropped from the basket onto the table and started crawlling away. He got to the house wall, easily scaling it and crawled along. Toward me.
Amy and I are both on our feet now.
I have my blue bandana out. Amy is behind me.
"Not with your good handkerchief!" she says. "Here, let me get him with my shoe!"
The spider is right on the house's artificial siding in front of me and Amy is holding out her tiny shoe.
The cordless phone starts ringing.
I take Amy's shoe. She answers the phone. It is my brother calling from Germany.
The spider is on the wall in front of me and I take Amy's tiny shoe and smash the plastic sole down on the spider and I feel its body collapse in a crunch. I smash it around to make sure. I take Amy's shoe away and there is a smear of yellowish-brown goo on the wall and some black spider pieces.
I thrust Amy's shoe back at her. She takes it and I sit down hard on my front porch chair. A big sob rips through me. I can't believe what I have done.
I cover my face with my hands like one of the damned.
Amy narrates the whole scene to my brother in Germany. "Jimmy killed a spider for me and now he's upset. I think he's mad at me. Now he's turning his back on me. Uh-oh."
I can't believe it and yet I did it. I did not have to do it and yet I did. That magnificent creature. That powerful, black, scary beast.
My brain says over and over: I killed the spider! I killed the spider! I killed the spider!
I killed it.
EPILOGUE: Having killed this spider, he's got a hold on me. After some internet searching, I think I've found what kind he was. He was, I believe, one of the commonly called Jumping Spiders. In fact, I think he was Phidippus Audax, the Bold or Daring Jumping Spider.
Keep in mind that he was really quite small compared to these pictures. But these convey a bit of the majesty I saw in him.
I now know that the two iridescent green parts I took to be the creature's eyes are actually his mouth parts, known as chelicerae. At the end of these long protuberances are his fangs.